Interview: Kelly Sloan

Although Kelly Sloan is new to these shores her 2016 album Big Deal was in fact her third following her 2008 debut Always Changes and 2010’s Kelly Sloan. Accomplished on both guitar and piano, her influences range from folk to country through vintage 50s & 60s pop rock. I caught up with the award winning Canadian singer-songwriter just before her final UK date of a European tour that will take in Italy, Sicily, Switzerland and Luxembourg. 

How is the tour going? It is your first-time touring in the UK so what have you made of venues and audiences here?

The tour has gone really well so far. I have to say that I love the venues here and they could teach the ones at home a lesson or two. Venues here take responsibility for promoting the show, offer accommodation and meals and general make us feel very welcome. At home in Canada it is the responsibility of the artist to promote the gig which is all well and good but not particularly helpful if the artist is playing in an unfamiliar new town.

At home I can play bigger venues but, as a musician who is not particularly well known over here, these smaller more intimate settings are perfect for me at this time. I love engaging with the crowd and what I play sometimes changes depending on the exchange of energy and the way I feel the music should go. I have been really encouraged by the reaction of people that I have met who are new to my music. People here also seem more willing to buy merchandise which is a hugely important source of income for me. A huge amount of effort goes into making an album so to play a show and sell a CD off the back of it is really pleasing in this age of downloads.

Classical Background

My background as kid was classical and opera, playing piano, etc. Although, as I grew up, it wasn’t really the route I wanted to go down, it was a great grounding because of the skills and techniques learned along the way. That background comes in useful today as I still get invitations to play unusual gigs based on my classical roots. However, I was always listening to folk and blues and rock and that was where I saw myself heading at that time. I started by playing backup in rock and country groups but it was when I was living on the east coast of Canada that a friend who had a studio encouraged me to write songs. It went well and eventually ended up with an album of songs which became my first CD Always Changes. That first album wasn’t planned at all. Having completed it I thought ‘what do I do with this now.’ So, I just kept going from there really.

Musical Evolution

I am still proud of that first album but, as it just came together almost by accident really and wasn’t planned, I felt I needed to take a step back at that point. I needed to think about how I wanted to create an album, how to get a greater understanding of song writing, how I wanted to be seen as an artist and how I wanted my music to sound. I have so many varied musical influences that I wanted to be careful to make sure that I didn’t end up taking little bits from different genres and ending up with no real direction or identity of my own.

It took time to mature and work on my craft. I wanted to assemble the right team around me. I did lots of demos and tried working with lots of different musicians in different studios but it was only prior to making the last album Big Deal that I found a rhythm section and producer and studio I really wanted. So, after a big gap of 6 years between albums we ended up recording and mixing the album in 6 days which sounds really fast but in reality, it was the culmination of a 6-year process to get to that point.

I do feel my music has evolved. The feedback I have received says that the latest album still sounds like me but it is a departure and more mature than my earlier recordings. Like anyone as they age they get more confident in what they are doing and on the previous albums I didn’t really know what I wanted before I started. Lots of people were telling me what they thought I should do, especially bearing in mind my classical training, people wanted to make me sound ‘pretty’. But I wanted a balance so I got this rhythm section from a psychedelic pop group that I really liked who were a bit heavy but produced some great melodies as well. I wanted some weight and grittiness to balance the sound I wanted and I think that is what they gave me on this album.

Americana labelling incorporates a whole different load of genres. I have been described as indie/folk/pop which is not inaccurate but there are also influences of country and folk. I like ethereal sounds that come from a little bit of synth perhaps but all of those different genres come from the same root anyway.

Influences

With regard to the art of song writing I would have to cite John Prine, Tom Waits and Nina Simone. They were some of my idols growing up. With regard to singing it was the greats like Joan Baez that had the biggest influence. I like honest voices, not necessarily great voices but those that sing from the heart. I pull from so many different genres in that respect.

I write about things I am trying to figure out internally as a rule. That may be a feeling or thought, a memory or just a direction I am on at that time. It can be a fantastic therapy to be able to write to figure things out. As a person I joke around a lot but I don’t write joke songs. I take my song writing seriously, it is my opportunity to dissect something within me.  They all don’t have to be about me but they are all real-life songs and they all mean something to me. My songs are a free expression, not a mathematical subject or formula that equates to a song.

Canada

A lot of great songwriters are coming out of Canada and there are a bunch of reasons why that might be the case. Long, dark, cold winters facilitate reflective song writing. Dark winters and hibernation helps the songwriter’s art and the result of that might be described as a plethora of sad or melancholic songs. You don’t have to be sad to write a song but when you are happy sometimes you don’t have the same reasons to emote. Canada is a relatively new country with a rich history of immigration that allows a range of influences to play their part on the artist.

I would say there is a sense of community amongst the singer/songwriters but the sheer size of the country means there are big differences in the sound between, say, Halifax and Vancouver. If you played me songwriters from Canada I could probably tell you where about they come from. It has to be said that there is, unsurprisingly, a definite influence from the USA as well.

What next?

I have just done an album of covers, Impressions which I need to promote at home once I finish this European tour but I am really looking forward to getting started on a new album of original songs. I certainly have enough material for a new album. I am definitely going to play more of a leading role in my albums going forward. I am becoming more confident in my own ability to manage the whole process although I have always co-produced my albums anyway. I always have a head full of ideas that I like to bring into the studio with me and, as much as I am loving this tour, I can’t wait to get home and into the studio.

Author: Peter Churchill

Lover of intelligent singer-songwriters; a little bit country; a little bit folk; a little bit Americana.
Perfect Day – early morning round of golf, afternoon at Dean Court watching AFC Bournemouth, evening gig at a cosy smallish venue with a pint and a packet of scratchings.

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